Keir Starmer is making a concerted effort to present himself as the unity candidate, one who will represent the left and right in equal measure and ensure that the absurdist “broad church” continues unabated. What this means, of course, is that he is no such thing.
While the undoubtedly smooth, persuasive and ambitious Starmer has said many of the right things since announcing his candidacy for the Labour leadership, what goes on behind the scenes where the average voter doesn’t see is perhaps far more important than anything any candidate might say during an election campaign. It is in these secret nooks and crannies of a campaign that we see the true intentions of a candidate, the true voices that they surround themselves with and undoubtedly the true direction of their leadership should they actually win the contest.
And Keir Starmer’s campaign team tells one hell of a story.
Starmer has built a team that will be very familiar to Owen Smith, the team increasingly made up of former members of Smith’s failed 2016 bid to oust Jeremy Corbyn, including the campaign company behind the endeavour.
Also on the team is the former vice-chair of Progress Jenny Chapman. The former MP for Darlington was Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union alongside Starmer and was considered to be in the core negative group of MPs who were hostile to Corbyn’s leadership. Progress, of course, was founded in 1996 to support New Labour and the leadership of Tony Blair. It is on the right of the party.
Ben Nunn, the former Director of Communications for Owen Smith is on board. Before joining Smith, Nunn worked as political advisor to Heidi Alexander who was instrumental in the so-called “chicken coup” against Jeremy Corbyn, helping Smith run his campaign after resigning from the shadow cabinet. Alexander was Sadiq Khan’s campaign chair for the London mayoral election in 2016 and resigned her seat in 2018 to become his deputy mayor for transport in London.
This being the same Sadiq Khan who said recently that the public had “got it right” in electing Boris Johnson because Labour did not deserve to win power.
Also joining the team is Chris Ward, a former office manager for Chris Leslie. Leslie quit Labour in February of 2019 alongside six other MPs, attempting to form The Independent Group, The Independent Group for Change, Change UK, the CUKs, whatever they were called. Either way, it was a neoliberal disaster of immense proportions.
Perhaps most alarming of Starmer’s appointments however is that of Matt Pound.
Pound is a member of Labour First, a right-wing group within Labour that seeks to protect the “old Labour right” and keep Labour “safe” from the influence of what it terms the “organised hard left”, absurdly including Momentum and anyone slightly to the left of Margaret Thatcher in that stance. If you are a socialist, you are not welcome at Labour First. In 2016, the Birmingham Mail identified John Spellar, Tom Watson and Ian Austin as having links with Labour First, all of which were profoundly opposed to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and involved in plots to both unseat and undermine the leadership throughout his tenure.
While Stamer can boast that he also has Kat and Simon Fletcher who worked on Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign on board, the inescapable truth is that the overwhelming majority of Starmer’s team is from the right of the party and involves extensive links to the failed Smith campaign of 2016. These links present a case that, far from being a unity candidate, Starmer is the New Labour candidate. The involvement of Matt Pound and his membership of Labour First should raise every concern that a Starmer victory will see a complete purge of the Labour left, a result completely in-keeping with the stated goals of Labour First.